Quirky 8.6Quirky is an offshoot of Puppy Linux. The live distro is maintained by Barry Kauler, who until 2013 was the lead developer of Puppy. The main difference between Quirky and Puppy is that Quirky is experimental - its aim is "to explore new ideas in Puppy's underlying infrastructure".
The official introduction to Quirky consists of a few short paragraphs on the developer's blog. The last paragraph acknowledges that the page "needs to be filled out a bit more" and refers people who want to find out more about the distro to the blog's Quirky tag. There is also a link to the Quirky docs which consists of a single page that reads: "coming soon".
As I was not that familiar with Puppy I read most of the blog posts with the Quirky tag. The blog posts are rather technical and aimed at people interested in the underlying technologies. If, like me, you would like an overview of how to use the distro on a day-to-day basis then you are out of luck.
Installation and first impressions
Installing Quirky is easy enough: you download the ISO, transfer it to a USB stick (or CD/DVD) and boot your computer from the USB. It is recommended that the USB is at least 8GB in size - that will give you enough space for the distro itself and to store data.
On the first run you are presented with a "Quick Setup" wizard. You can use this to configure the locale, date, keyboard layout and screen resolution. Next, you are asked if you want to configure the network. There are two separate tools for this. I went with the recommended Simple Network Setup utility, which worked fine. It is worth noting that out of the box Ethernet won't work and that you may need to configure your network every time you boot Quirky (sometimes Quirky remembered the network settings but most times I needed to reconfigure the connection). On the bright side, I didn't have any issues with wireless Internet during my trial.
Quirky uses the BusyBox init system and the desktop environment is JWM. The desktop features a single panel with a menu, quick launchers, workspace switchers, application launchers and a system tray.
At first sight the menu looks fairly organised but when you start looking inside the various categories you might get a little overwhelmed. Quirky comes with an awful lot of software pre-installed. Among the applications I don't usually see in Linux distros are a graphical application to search the whois database, an animated GIF generator and a personal wiki creator.
Another thing I noticed is the file system hierarchy. When I launched the file manager it opened the /file directory, which contained directories such as archive, downloads, media, and projects. As far as I can tell this is the home directory, although the set of default sub-directories is somewhat unusual.
The reason I am not quite sure about the purpose of the /file directory is that most applications will try to save files to the /root directory. In a way that makes sense, as you are logged in as the super user, but it made me wonder about the relation between the /file and /root directory. I then found that there is also a /home directory with two sub-directories: rover and zeus. An 'about' file in these directories explains that rover and zeus are "intended" as unprivileged users in a container and that they are used in EasyShare (an application for sharing files over a network). The file refers to "container ssh0" for more information but where to look for that container is not explained.
Quirky 8.6 -- Reading the documentation about "rover" (full image size: 488kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
It is also possible to run applications as the user spot. I found some documentation in /usr/share/doc that talked about spot and fido, which are simply non-root users. The documentation was from 2013 and talked about Puppy rather than Quirky, so my guess is that rover and zeus are Quirky-specific additions.
Quirky ships with a very large number of applications, many of which have the same function. For example, you get two clipboard managers, two checksum calculators, two batch file renamers and three screenshot utilities; under Business you will find four calculators and under Multimedia you will see applications such as Asunder audio CD ripper, CD player/ripper (pMusic), Pcdripper CD song ripper and pMusic -player -manager -grabber.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is also an alternative application menu. If you find the main menu a little too cluttered you can click on the apps icon on the desktop to launch EasyApps, which effectively is an application menu in an application window. The layout is a lot less overwhelming than the main menu: under Business there is just one calculator and under Media you've got a single CD ripper. EasyApps also doesn't show the names of applications; instead it provides a generic name and description (such as "CD Ripper - Copy/Extract songs from CD"). Although it is awkward to have a separate window for a menu I did find it easier to use than the main menu. The same goes for the PupControl application, which avoids having to locate configuration options in the menu.
Quirky 8.6 -- The EasyApps and PupControl applications (full image size: 549kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Among the more recognisable applications are the SeaMonkey web browser and e-mail client, ROX-Filer file manager, LibreOffice (version 5.1) and the Leafpad and Geany text editors. Generally speaking, these applications worked fine. Many of the less common applications, however, were buggy. Some were usable but a little annoying. For instance, the Figaro's Password Manager works just like other graphical password managers. It has one feature I was not familiar with though: for each entry you are supposed to define a "launcher". The launcher options are None, Web, ssh and Generic command. If you choose None for an entry (which is the default) you can't open the entry - Figaro will complain that the password's launcher is "undefined". I honestly haven't got a clue what the launchers are about and the only way I could view passwords was by selecting the 'Edit' option for an entry.
Other applications were simply unusable. For example, at first I was quite impressed by the pMusic Radio Streamer. The application obtains lots of radio streams from somewhere and lets you not only play streams but also record them. I was indeed able to start recording streams but there was no obvious way to stop recording. My best guess was that I needed to click the "Quit and Update db" button. That, however, resulted in an "Updating database, please wait" message and then an error: the directory to which the audio was saved (named "incomplete") had been deleted. The directory had indeed gone - but it wasn't me who had deleted it.
Quirky 8.6 -- Trying to stop recording an audio stream (full image size: 483kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Meanwhile, the "Updating database" message stayed on the screen and the pMusic window had gone blank - the latter appears to happen when an application launches a new window, such as pMusic's "Radio Grabber" dialogue. The main pMusic window would not be redrawn, so I decided to try to kill it via the Pprocess process manager. The application sorts processes by their PID and clicking on the headers to change the sort order resulted in a "No action defined" error and searches for the process returned no results.
Interestingly, one of the options shown when you right-click on an application's launcher is "Kill". Selecting that option closed the blank pMusic window but the audio continued to play. The only way to actually kill the application was via the command line. The "Updating database" message turned out to have its own PID and needed to be killed separately.
I encountered issues like these all the time. I don't mind that things like connecting to the Internet are a somewhat manual process. Quirky aims to provide a lightweight, live distro and that comes at a cost. However, I do dislike that few applications are actually usable and that the interface is, frankly, a mess. There is no reason why everything is so ugly and dysfunctional. JWM can look perfectly elegant and applications that are lightweight aren't necessarily broken.
Quirky is based on Ubuntu 16.04 but is quite different architecturally. I have already mentioned the file system structure. A more noticeable difference is the package manager. Quirky uses the graphical PETget package manager, which is quite a different beast than APT.
PETget's main window shows the software repositories - Quirky is pulling packages from the Ubuntu Xenial repositories and the pet-xerus and pet-noarch repositories - and packages are organised in categories. As with so many other Quirky applications, the interface is rather poor. The application shows a lot of information and I therefore maximised the window so that I wouldn't have to scroll from left to right to view the package names and descriptions. However, maximising the window causes the list with packages to shift to the right, leaving a huge amount of empty space to the left. To read package descriptions you still have to scroll horizontally.
More annoyingly, PETget also isn't very good at installing and removing software. The first package I tried to install was the Midori browser. PETget told me that Midori had three dependencies and invited me to "examine" them. The install dialogue showed that there were in fact five dependencies and offered to install the lot. Hitting the Install button resulted in lots of yellow blocks flickering on the screen, and then PETget got stuck. The install dialogue had disappeared but at the top of the screen I got a "please wait, installing" message that just sat there. The main PETget window had of course gone blank and had therefore become unusable.
Quirky 8.6 -- Trying to install the Midori browser (full image size: 66kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
I had exactly the same result with other graphical applications I tried to install. I did have more luck installing command line utilities. For instance, I was able to install the dnsutils package, which had seven dependencies. As before, the install process caused lots of flickering on the screen but PETget got the job done.
Removing software doesn't appear to be possible at all. The first hurdle is finding the name of the package to be removed. I wanted to remove a couple of the calculators but a search for "*calc*" in all repositories returned just one result: "galculator" (which is interesting as it is the only calculator whose name doesn't match the string "calc"). The package couldn't be removed - clicking on the result would offer to install the application. PETget does list installed packages in a separate pane and clicking on those items enables you to remove a package but the list always showed the same 20-odd packages, whatever I queried.
I thought it might be easier to manage software from the command line. I found that there is a petget command but it looks like the utility simply opens the graphical PETget package manager to either install (petget +package-name) or remove (petget -package-name) software. Running "petget --help" therefore didn't return any help text - instead it offered to remove the package '-help'. As an aside, running "man petget" triggered a Google search for "man petget site:linux.die.net". The search yielded no results.
My final attempt was to remove galculator by running the command "petget -galculator". I was hardly surprised when PETget told me it couldn't find the package.
Installing Quirky to the hard drive
It is possible to install Quirky to the hard drive via the Quirky Universal Installer. You've got two options: you can do a "full" or "frugal" install. I first had a look at the frugal install which, as I understand it, installs everything in a single file. The installer only offered to write the file to the USB stick from which Quirky was running, which didn't seem all that useful - I wanted to install Quirky to a spare partition on my hard drive.
I got a bit further with the full install. I could point the installer at the ISO image I had downloaded and select the destination partition from a drop-down menu, and after a few minutes I got a confirmation message that the installation had finished.
The real challenge, though, comes after the installation has finished as the installer doesn't configure the GRUB bootloader. The confirmation message explains what text you can add to the menu.lst file if you are using the GRUB4DOS bootloader but doesn't have anything to say about GRUB. Running os-prober from within Fedora retrieved Quirky Linux and running "grub2-mkconfig" appeared to add it to the GRUB menu - but after rebooting my laptop I found Quirky wasn't there. As I had little desire to install Quirky anyway I decided that the installer must still be a work in progress.
Much as I wanted to like Quirky, I found very little to like. The distro is developed by one person who is clearly very interested in the underlying technologies of Puppy Linux (in particular the WoofQ build system). If that is what you are interested in then Quirky is fantastic distribution and reading blog posts tagged with Quirky will be fascinating. However, if you are a mere mortal looking for a live distro that looks elegant and is functional then Quirky will be a disappointment.
Of course, Quirky is marketed as an experimental distribution. It is a pet project that no doubt benefits the family of Puppy distributions. Still, a little bit of information about the unusual file system hierarchy, the PETget package manager and installing Quirky to a hard drive would go a long way to help potential users. Similarly, a little bit of quality control and usability testing would make running Quirky much less frustrating. The fact that there is no documentation, no bug tracker and no community forum is telling.
The one good thing I have to say about Quirky is that the distro was very responsive. It took just over ten seconds to get to the desktop and all applications launched instantly. Other than that Quirky is a distro to avoid.
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Hardware used for this review
I ran Quirky on various devices but mainly used a Lenovo G50-30 laptop with the following specifications: